Bigger questions lie behind public land failure

Originally published on July 24 on my blog for Inside Housing.

The government has wasted a ‘once-in-a generation opportunity’ to tackle the housing crisis by failing to develop a strategy for disposing of public land.

That’s the damning verdict on the much-vaunted Public Land for Housing Programme from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this morning (Wednesday).

The MPs find that by 2020 the government will have sold land for just 69,000 of the 160,000 homes it promised in England between 2015 and 2020 – and even that estimate relies on some heroic assumptions about progress over the next 12 months.

A second target to deliver £5 billion of receipts from the sale of surplus public land over the same period will be met – but only because of the £1.5 bn sale of Network Rail’s railway arches in February that was not part of the original programme.

When you consider that is happening in the middle of a housing crisis and in the wake of an austerity drive that has been closing public services around the country, that is an abject failure.

And those headline figures only tell part of a story that has an ever bigger failure to deliver affordable housing at the heart of it.

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The Housing Bill: The final lap

Originally published on April 29 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The worst excuse for a Bill that I can remember in 25 years of writing about housing limps back to the House of Commons next week.

The Housing and Planning Bill’s tail is not quite between its legs as all the key elements are still there and the Commons will reverse some changes. But it’s been gutted in the Lords, with two more defeats for the government on Wednesday, and this morning (Friday) it’s the subject of withering criticism by the all-party Public Accounts Committee.

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Who’s counting

Originally posted on September 24 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

The disposal of public land for new homes looks destined to go down as one of the great housing fiascos of this decade.

An extraordinary report published on Thursday by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reveals complacency on an epic scale within the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The report is a follow-up to an investigation by the National Audit Office into a programme announced n 2011 by a certain former housing minister (no prizes for guessing which one) to ‘release enough public land to build as many as 100,000 new, much-needed, homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by 2015’. In March this year the DCLG proclaimed mission accomplished: land with capacity for 109,950 homes across 942 sites had been sold.

However, in a report published in June, the NAO found that ‘the target measured a notional number of expected homes, not actual homes built’. On top of that, a quarter of the 100,000 ‘homes’ were on land that had been sold before Grant Shapps set the target or on land that was categorised as ‘sold’ when its owner simply moved outside the public sector (Royal Mail was privatised and British Waterways moved to a charitable trust).

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Little progress

It’s time for another peek inside the workings of universal credit. IDS look away now.

The work and pensions secretary told us about his latest triumph two weeks ago: the start of the national roll-out heralded a new benefits era; it was £600 million under budget; and it was helping people find work quicker. The commentariat seemed to agree: in his final Telegraph column Peter Oborne was gushing; and in The Guardian Matthew d’Ancona wondered if IDS might even be ‘the man to save the Tories’.

However, as I’ve blogged before, universal credit exists in two states at once: triumph and not-triumph. It didn’t take long for the other state to be highlighted: Nigel Keohane pointed out that only 0.3 per cent of claimants are on universal credit so far plus a host of other practical problems; and a claimant who advertised it told the BBC he now thought it was a nightmare.

And today’s progress update from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee concludes that ‘very little progress has been achieved on the frontline’.

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Overpaid and overclaimed

Too expensive to repeal the bedroom tax? Look what’s happened to housing benefit overpayments.

A damning report published on Tuesday by the Commons public accounts committee reveals that overpayments cost £1.4 billion in 2013/14, the first year of the under-occupation penalty. That is an increase of £420 million since 2010/11.

Of that £1.4 billion, the DWP estimates that £900 million was claimant error, £340 million claimant fraud and £150 million official error. Overpayments since 2000/01 now total a staggering £12.6 billion – and there seem to be no figures on how much of the money that is overpaid is ever recovered.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing